Did you know that there are some interesting links between migraines, bipolar mania, and seizures? One I’ve learned about is light (i.e. shimmering, patterned or strength/time of light).
I’ve learned that light-induced migraines are common, and light (even artificial light or computer glares) may also amplify the pain after the headache has begun (1). Because of this, many people with migraines find some relief in darkness, or by wearing sun glasses.
During about a three year period, I suffered from typical migraines with severe headaches, with nausea and even vomiting. Though I can’t be sure light was the precise cause of these migraines I experienced, I did prefer to hide in my darkened bedroom while waiting for my medication to kick in.
Have you ever heard of silent migraines? If not, silent migraines may seem strange to some because they don’t include headache pain, but do include several other symptoms shared by typical migraines, such as “auras”. Auras are symptoms that sometimes precede typical migraines that include visual and/or sensory disturbances, like blurry vision, sound distortion, confusion, tingling, seeing zigzags, dizziness, nausea/vomiting, just to name a few (2). They also frequently include light sensitivity, with the need for darkness to find relief. Actually, I believe flashing or unique patterns of light have been the cause of silent migraines I’ve personally been diagnosed with. When I’ve had them, I was always either outside or driving in my car on ultra-sunny days. The symptoms would make me almost panic. My relief, like for typical migraines, was to hide in a darkened room until the symptoms passed.
Mania in bipolar disorder
Getting out on a sunny day has long been a common suggestion for people in a mood slump. On cloudy days, people with depression have even used light boxes in their house just for this purpose. However, strong or prolonged light has also been blamed for some people with bipolar disorder becoming manic. It is common that as the days become longer (such as in the spring or summer) that mania is most common. In contrast, winter and fall often (but not always) bring on lower moods. I happen to also have bipolar disorder, and have noticed a clear seasonal pattern to my episodes.
Certain epileptic or seizure disorders
When people are tested for epilepsy or seizure disorders, very often they are exposed to strong flashing lights as part of the test. Just like migraines and mania, light has been shown to influence the onset of a small percentage of peoples’ seizures. In these cases, the condition is known as photosensitive epilepsy. For such people, seizures may even be triggered by television, video games, computer monitors, and of course natural lights.
Special notes and other interesting links:
In the cases of all of the conditions above, there are many different things that could trigger symptoms besides just light. Emotional stress, or certain sleep issues are just a couple more examples. Interestingly, anticonvulsant medications (aka anti-epileptics) have been used to treat some people with one or more of the conditions mentioned. All three conditions also have periods of remission. All three can also be worsened by the kindling effect, where having more episodes makes additional more likely. Why exactly there are so many links is not completely known, but hopefully further study on these conditions will shed more light on this.